By: David Taylor
It’s here! After a twelve-game regular season and a two-round aggregate, the matchup is set for ArenaBowl 32. The Albany Empire will host the Philadelphia Soul on August 11, 2019, at 8 pm on ESPN 2. Both teams cruised through the aggregate round, although Philadelphia got much more of a challenge from Washington than Albany did from Baltimore. Here is what to expect from this championship showdown.
The Empire and the Soul are undoubtedly the two best teams in the AFL right now. Philadelphia struggled early in the season, costing the Soul the #2 seed in the playoffs. However, over the last seven games, Philadelphia is 6-1. The only loss came to Albany in the final game of the regular season. Albany is also 6-1 over the previous seven games, with the Empire’s only loss coming to Philadelphia in week 10. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Albany Empire Players to Watch:
- QB Tommy Grady- AFL MVP
- WR Malachi Jones- Wide Receiver of the Year. Offensive Player of the Year
- DL Joe Sykes- Defensive Lineman of the Year
- K Adrian Trevino- Kicker of the Year
- OL Ryan Cave- Offensive Lineman of the Year
- FB Mikey Benson- AFL First Team
- WR Quentin Sims- AFL First Team
- OL Jordan Mudge- AFL First Team
Look at all those honors! Albany has had an exceptional season. The Empire can score at any given moment through multiple players. Albany’s prolific offense is nearly impossible to stop.
Albany wins if: the Empire protect Tommy Grady and commit no turnovers. In the loss to Philadelphia, Albany was sacked twice and Grady was picked off once. If Albany keeps the pocket clean and avoids the sticky fingers of James Romain and the Philadelphia secondary, the Empire will be bringing the ArenaBowl title home for the first time in twenty years.
Philadelphia Soul Players to Watch:
- WR Darius Prince- AFL First Team
- OL Neal Tivis- AFL First Team
- DB James Romain- Defensive Back of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year
Less lauded than Albany, Philadelphia still boasts loads of talent on offense and defense. Head coach Clint Dolezel was recently announced as the AFL coach of the year as well. Dolezel will be coaching in his third ArenaBowl as the Soul head coach. He is 2-0 in the previous outings. This experience could be what Philadelphia needs to pull off the upset this weekend.
Philadelphia wins if: The Soul will pull of the upset if a couple of things happen. One: James Romain picks off a minimum of two passes. Two: Someone on offense besides Darius Prince steps up. Wide Receiver Lonnie Outlaw has had great success against Albany this season. In three games against Albany, Outlaw recorded five receiving touchdowns. Getting Aaron Wascha back, as well as putting Darius Reynolds on offense again has made the Soul offense much more potent. Philly wins if one of these receivers rises to the occasion.
The Pick: Albany Empire 58, Philadelphia Soul 53
Here are our final staff picks of the season:
By: David Taylor
Round 1 of the playoffs proved to be two convincing victories for Philadelphia and Albany. There is not a lot of drama this weekend as the two teams will likely be advancing to the Arena Bowl due to the margins of victory in round 1. The only real drama will be who to play in the DraftKings fantasy football league. Expect there to be some resting of key players this weekend.
Holy blowout, Batman! Albany came out and completely took care of business last weekend. With a 35-point cushion, the Empire will likely be moving on. Look for late game substitutions for the Empire. It will be interesting to see if Albany alters its play calling to run more time off the clock each possession, or if it will be business as usual.
Game Prediction: Albany 44, Baltimore 36
Aggregate Prediction: Albany advances to ArenaBowl 32
Check out last week’s box score, courtesy of AFLdigital.com:
In a game of “Anything you can do, I can do better,” Philadelphia decided to best Albany in the aggregate scoring department, winning by 36 points to Albany’s 35. Last week’s preview proved to be semi-prophetic: Nelson was picked off multiple times (3) by James Romain, and the way Philadelphia defended the Valor QB was the deciding factor in the game.
Game 2 Prediction: Washington gets a measure of redemption, just not enough. 44-40 Valor.
Aggregate Prediction: Philadelphia is heading to the ArenaBowl.
Here are the staff picks for this week. Please welcome new staffer Zach Keilman!
By: David Taylor
After two blow-out playoff games, it appears that the matchup Arena Bowl 32 is set. The Philadelphia Soul and the Albany Empire will more than likely be squaring off. Philadelphia will be looking for its third Arena Bowl championship, while Albany will be looking for its first-ever Arena Bowl championship as the Empire. (Albany previously won a title as the Firebirds in 1999.) Previously in the year, Philadelphia and Albany played three times with Albany winning two out of three. The last time these two teams played, Albany destroyed Philadelphia by a score of 72 to 27. Once the game got out of hand, it was clear that Philadelphia was no longer playing to win, which may explain the lopsided score.
Albany and Philadelphia still have to get through the second round of the aggregate scoring series for the playoffs, but both teams will be heading into next weekend with a +30 point margin. This margin means that Albany and Philadelphia will have to lose by more than 30 points next weekend to not advance to Arena Bowl 32. Albany seems to feel pretty good about its chances since ticket sales for the Arena Bowl have already been announced on the Empire’s social media sites. Arena Bowl 32 will be held at the higher seed, which will be Albany if the Empire can hold onto a 35 point cushion. Albany defeated Baltimore 61 to 26. Philadelphia defeated Washington 69 to 33. Next week, Albany and Philadelphia will look to finish off Baltimore and Washington.
The Soul surprised a lot of people by putting Darius Reynolds back on offense this week. The Reynolds move proved to be extremely useful as Reynolds scored three touchdowns in his return to the WR position. Defensive back James Romain shined as well, as he intercepted three passes, including the last desperation heave of the game to put an exclamation point on the victory for Philadelphia. Quarterback Dan Raudabaugh was equally impressive. The Soul signal-caller finished 17-23 for 284 yards and six touchdowns. Two early passes were dropped as well, meaning Raudabagh could have had even better numbers. He played at an MVP level in this game.
Albany dominated Baltimore from basically start to finish. The only exception was a kick off return for a touchdown by Joe Powell at the beginning of the game. Unfortunately for Baltimore, this is one of the few things that went right in the first half. Albany Empire quarterback Tommy Grady was sensational in the game, spreading the ball around everywhere. Grady’s favorite target was Quentin Sims. Sims caught five touchdown passes to lead the Empire to victory. This victory, coupled with a disastrous loss for Washington, likely settled the MVP debate for this season. The other leading contender to Tommy Grady for MVP was Arvell Nelson, quarterback of the Washington Valor. Nelson struggled mightily against the Soul, turning over the ball four times. The Most Valuable Player for the league this year will more than likely be Tommy Grady.
Albany and Philadelphia are playing their best football of the season right now. If these are the two teams that will participate in Arena Bowl 32, fans are in for a treat. August 11 is coming soon, and a new champion will be crowned!
By: David Taylor
It’s playoff time! The final four teams have punched their postseason tickets and seeding is complete. The first weekend’s games feature Albany vs. Baltimore and Washington vs. Philadelphia. The opening round of the playoffs is key because it is a two part matchup based on aggregate scoring. The series will be a two-game, home and home event. Highest scoring total at the end of the two games moves on to Arena Bowl 32. Here is a preview:
Being only one of two teams to defeat Albany, Baltimore comes into this game with a lot of confidence. The 4th seeded Brigade is looking to stun Albany again this weekend. The Empire is cruising into the playoffs following consecutive blowout wins. The winner of game one has a decided advantage in game two, so expect both teams to pull out all the stops in order to get points on the board.
Baltimore wins if: the Brigade wins the turnover battle and QB Shayne Boyd gets the ball out on time. An onside kick recovery or kickoff return for a TD would not hurt either.
Albany wins if: the Empire don’t overthink things. In the two losses this season, oddly timed onside kick attempts that failed got the Empire out of rhythm. Protecting QB Tommy Grady will also be vital to victory.
Prediction: Albany wins at home, 44-41.
Regular season stats and rankings:
“The third time’s the charm.” That is what Philadelphia is hoping for heading into this playoff series. The Soul were beaten twice previously this season by the Valor. In both games, the Soul struggled to find an answer for Arvell Nelson. Nelson is an MVP candidate, but is also prone to interceptions. He leads the league in interceptions thrown, and is first in attempts per interception ratio at 3.6% (among playoff teams). The play of Arvell Nelson will ultimately determine the winner of this playoff series.
Philadelphia wins if: James Romain (or Dwayne Hollis) intercepts more than one pass. Philadelphia will also need to play mistake free football and get a high accuracy game from QB Dan Raudabaugh. There can be no turnovers on downs.
Washington wins if: Arvell Nelson avoids mistakes and scores with his legs as well as his arms. This series will be the highest scoring of the two, so Nelson needs to find the end zone on the ground more than once.
Prediction: Philly wins a thriller, 63-61.
Regular season stats and rankings:
Before we get to the staff picks, Please congratulate Richard Martin on his regular season championship! Richard finished first in our league with a 67% success rate. But the playoffs will decide the overall champion, so stay tuned!
Here are the Round 1 Playoff Staff Picks:
Week 12 is here and there are two matchups to preview. Albany travels to Columbus to take on the Destroyers, looking for the number one seed. Washington travels to Baltimore to try and clinch the final playoff spot. There’s still plenty to play for this weekend.
Albany is coming off of a rare loss in this matchup against Columbus. The Empire have had an extra week to prepare for the Destroyers, and are focused on one goal: The number one seed. Albany is as explosive as ever offensively but suffered many injuries to the secondary in the loss to Philadelphia two weeks ago. The severity of those injuries may have some impact on this game.
Columbus was embarrassed the last time they took the field. Quarterback Grant Russell was intercepted four times and sacked twice. Overall, the Destroyers turned the ball over six times. Columbus also surrendered two defensive touchdowns and one special teams touchdown in the loss to Baltimore. It was a rock-bottom moment.
Player to Watch: Wide Receiver Malachi Jones, Albany Empire. Setting the AFL ablaze this season, Jones leads the league in receptions, yards, and yards per game. He is second in the league in receiving touchdowns, trailing teammate Quentin Sims by three scores (24 to 21). Jones is also fantasy gold, according to Draft Kings.
Prediction: Empire, and it’s not even close. Albany 52, Columbus 26.
Seeding and a playoff spot are on the line in this matchup. Washington needs one win to clinch the final spot, and a win over Baltimore benefits the Valor’s seeding hopes. The teams have played twice so far this season, with each team winning once. The teams are only one game apart in the standings, so a tie is a likely outcome. The winner of this matchup will hold the tiebreaker advantage.
Washington lost a close game last weekend to Atlantic City, opening up a playoffs version of Pandora’s box. Valor quarterback Arvell Nelson has struggled lately, throwing three interceptions in the loss to Atlantic City. Nelson is a bit of a statistical mystery this year. He leads the league in completions and pass attempts, but is last in completion percentage. Nelson is second in touchdown passes but is also second in interceptions. For the Valor to make the playoffs and repeat as champions, Nelson must find some consistency.
Baltimore is breathing a collective sigh of relief after Atlantic City was defeated by Philadelphia last week. The Blackjack loss propelled the Brigade into the playoffs. Baltimore can still climb as high as the number 2 seed in the playoffs, so don’t expect the Brigade to take any games off heading into postseason play. Having the higher seeding in the first round could be critical for the Brigade to advance to the Arena Bowl.
Player to Watch: Defensive Back Josh Victorian, Baltimore. Victorian intercepted two passes in the matchup vs. Columbus two weeks ago. Victorian returned one of those two for a touchdown. With Valor QB Arvell Nelson struggling over the last few weeks, Victorian could have a big day in the secondary. Baltimore is second in the league with 13 interceptions. As mentioned earlier, Nelson is second in the league in interceptions thrown.
Prediction: Baltimore wins a wild one, 56-52.
Here are the staff picks for this week:
by: David Taylor
Week 11 only has one game, but it may just be the most important game of the season. Philadelphia travels to Atlantic City to take on the Blackjacks. The contest will determine the fate of Atlantic City, and willl heavily influence what Baltimore and Washington need to do the following weekend.
Two of the hottest teams in the AFL square off in this weekend’s only matchup. With a win, Atlantic City keeps its slim playoff hopes alive. A loss will effectively end the season for the Blackjacks. Philadelphia, meanwhile, is playing for one of the top two seeds in the playoffs.
Atlantic City has put up 131 points in its last two games (65.5 ppg) with backup quarterback Warren Smith, Jr. at the helm. Smith is 46-62 for 538 yards and 12 touchdowns in his last two starts. Atlantic City is simply a different team with Smith at quarterback. Last week, the defense came up big as well, forcing 3 interceptions and recording one sack in the game. For the Blackjacks to win, the defense will have to step up and stop a Soul offense that was unstoppable against the best team in the league last weekend.
Philadelphia has won three in a row and four out of five. The Soul have clinched a playoff spot but is hungry for more. Philadelphia still has an outside shot at the number one seed, as referenced here. The biggest change for the Soul over the last several weeks has been on defense. Over the last three weeks, Philadelphia has forced seven turnovers and eight turnovers on downs. The offense is also more consistent. Last weekend, Philadelphia scored on every offensive possession except the first one. The key to victory for the Soul will be to get some pressure on Warren Smith, Jr. In last week’s game against Albany, Philadelphia got a crucial third-quarter sack that changed the entire game. This game will likely be very high scoring, meaning that whichever defense can come up with a big play will win.
Players to Watch:
QB Warren Smith, Jr., Atlantic City -Smith has set the league on fire in his two starts, so a big game from from him is what Atlantic will need to get the win.
DB James Romain, Philadelphia Soul– Romain is easily the defensive player of the year for the AFL. Romain leads the league with interceptions at 7. If Romain can step in front of a couple of Smith’s passes, it will be a long day for Atlantic City.
Some other interesting things to consider: Atlantic City is 3-1 at home this season while Philadelphia is 2-2 on the road. Philadelphia has worn white on white over its last three games and is 3-0. Atlantic City typically wears all black at home and is 3-0 at home when they do so. As superstitious as athletes are, expect a monochrome matchup this weekend.
Prediction: Blackjacks 64, Soul 61
Here are the staff picks: